Google Analytics

Key Differences Between Google Analytics 4 (GA4) Properties and Universal Analytics (UA) Properties

UA vs. GA4: The Major Differences

Main Image Courtesy of The Keyword

Google Analytics' Universal Analytics (UA) properties stopped processing data as of July 1, 2023. Google replaced UA with the newer version of its analytics platform, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), which features new ways to measure customer behavior, along with new insights and features.

What’s a Key Difference Between Google Analytics 4 Properties and Universal Analytics Properties?

The previous version of Universal Analytics used a combination of page views and sessions for its data model. It also included a View level and a Property level in its account structure. On the other hand, the GA4 model takes into account "events" and includes both a data stream along with a property level.

How to Set Up GA4

When creating a Google Analytics property, the default is to use GA4. You can do so by going to the Google Analytics website and clicking on the blue "Create Property" button. 

  • Then, enter the name of your property and select the currency and reporting time zone that you want to use.At the bottom of the page, click "Next." You'll then be asked to provide a few details about your business. Then, hit "Create."
  • In the third step, create a "data stream." This is a new term that's used in Google Analytics to refer to the type of app or website that you're using. In the past, a website and an app were distinct properties. With GA4, these are now "data streams." 
  • If you're creating a property for a website, go to the "web" option.
  • Go to the website URL that you want to create a data stream from and click on the blue "Create Stream" button. You'll then be able to see a variety of options that allow you to set up a measurement ID.
  • You can then enable the collection of data by passing the Google Analytics 4 tracking code on your app or website. You can do this through the Google Tag Manager or directly from the site.
  • The last step is adding custom events and recommended events to your data stream. These are triggered by specific parameters and can be used on different web properties.

10 Differences Between UA & GA4

Ever since the initial launch of GA4, business owners have been scrambling to try and figure out this new and improved analytics platform. To give you a better idea on how truly transformative GA4 is in the digital marketing landscape, here are the major differences between the previous version of UA and now GA4. 

App Tracking 

One of the most important features of GA4 is its ability to track app and website data in the same place, which will allow users to easily combine their data across multiple platforms. The same measurement model that Google uses for mobile apps allows for the capture of events.

Hit Types 

The way interactions are captured differs significantly between GA4 and UA. In UA, they were typically captured in various hit types, such as social interactions and page views. On the other hand, in GA4, every interaction is marked as an event.

In UA, events had associated labels, categories, and actions. In contrast, in GA4, events don't have associated labels or categories. Instead, they are handled by event parameters, which provide additional details about the user's action. Some of these include the page_title parameter, which is automatically sent. 

In order to avoid duplicating the event logic from UA to GA4, Google suggests that you use new logic that is more appropriate for the new data model.

Measuring Customers in UA vs. GA4

UA used a cookie-based approach to collect data. When a user visited a website, it sent a cookie to their browser so that it could record and monitor their activity and measure the site's performance.

GA4 allows businesses to measure their performance across various devices and platforms. It also includes information collected from users who have opted in to receive personalized ads. Although it uses cookies, Google will not be tracking every user's activity. Instead, it uses an event-based model.

This method is more accurate than a session-based model when it comes to measuring GA4 users. In addition, it takes into account other factors such as the number of people who are returning and new users. For instance, in UA, the total users are the main focus. On the other hand, in GA4, the company focuses on the active users.

Session-Based vs Event-Based Data Models are More in Depth

The UA properties organized data into sessions, which served as the foundation for reporting. A session is a collection of user interactions that happen within a specific time frame.

ecommerce graphic
In a session, analytics collects various data points about a user, such as their interactions with eCommerce transactions and pageviews. It can store multiple hits depending on the user's behavior. Image Courtesy of the International Trade Administration

Although the GA4 properties retain session data, analytics can still collect and store user interactions as events. These events allow you to analyze the activities of your app or website, such as the actions taken by users, system events, and pageviews.

Event data can be sent and collected in pieces that provide additional context to a user's actions. This could include the purchase price, the page's title, and the user's geographical location.

Reporting in UA vs GA4

Although UA is built with a variety of standard reports, GA4 is more suited for exporting and custom reports.

An acquisition report provides us with a detailed analysis of the performance of various types of traffic on a site. For instance, if we want to compare the effectiveness of organic search with that of email or social media, then acquisition reporting is necessary. It also helps us make informed decisions regarding the allocation of funds. Although it's similar to UA in terms of its structure, some key differences are noticeable.

Acquisition report graphic
In order to get the most out of your data in GA4, you need to perform additional work. This can be done by exporting your data to a different format or creating a custom report with the help of Looker Studio. These reports can be very useful, but they can take a bit of time to create. Image Courtesy of Google Cloud.

New Metrics in GA4

The three new metrics included in GA4 reports are:

  • Engaged sessions: Google defines engagement as the number of sessions that lasted for more than ten seconds, had a conversion event, or featured two or more page views.
  • Average engagement time each session: According to Google, the duration of a user's engagement is based on the amount of time they spend on a particular page. This means that the main window that the user is viewing is the one that they are most engaged with.
  • Engagement rate: The concept of the engagement rate refers to the ratio of the number of sessions that a user has engaged with the total number of them. If you had 1,000 active sessions and 130 of them were considered engaged, the engagement rate would be 13%.

Different Segments in GA4

A segment is a subset of Google Analytics data that allows you to analyze it to gain a deeper understanding of your app or website's users. Similar to how UA works, GA4 and UA allow you to analyze up to four segments at once. But, the types of segments that you can create vary.

In GA4, there are three types of segments: Event, User, and Session. With UA, there are only two types of segments that can be created: Session and User.

One of the biggest differences between UA and GA4 is how segments are created. In GA4, you can create groups within the Explorations area, which is the same place where we create reports.

Conversion Tracking

When you transition to GA4, you'll notice that there will be a difference in the tracking of conversions. With an event-based system, every action taken on a website will be tracked as an event instead of a pageview.

In addition to event tracking, there are now more advanced methods that can be used to track conversions in GA4. One of these is conversion modeling, which uses machine learning to estimate the amount of conversions that were not completed due to data gaps.

Machine learning also analyzes the data collected from users who made a conversion and those who didn't, and can then identify the most common behaviors that users tend to perform when converting.

Cross-device tracking has even been added to the conversion modeling process. This feature allows you to monitor how your users complete conversions whether they're on your mobile app or website. It's easier than using Universal Analytics.

Bounce Rate and Engagement Rate 

One of the most common metrics that you could use in UA was the bounce rate, which showed how many sessions have a single page view.

Google Analytics bounce rate graphic
In GA4, the bounce rate changes depending on the event-based nature of the data. For instance, in GA4, the definition of the term "bounce rate" now refers to the percentage of sessions that didn't engage. Image Courtesy of ProfileTree

Instead of using the bounce rate, it's better to analyze the engagement rate, which is a distinct feature from UA.

In GA4, the percentage of sessions that are engaged is displayed as the engagement rate. This is more useful than the bounce rate, as it allows you to analyze the data and determine which pages have the lowest engagement rates.


Typically, in UA, multiple views were created for each property. These views were then filtered and segmented to remove data that wasn't of value to the business.

In GA4, you will no longer see the various data filters that were previously used. Instead, you'll only see two types of filters: internal and developer traffic.

Developers can opt out of having their own traffic included in analytics data with the help of the developer traffic filter. It's a predefined method that's automatically applied to all of your GA4 properties.

In GA4, the internal traffic filter allows app or website owners to block traffic from their own devices or network. You can add various filters to your GA4 properties, but you must not exclude specific IP addresses or restrict the content of your site.

All traffic coming into your GA4 properties is automatically filtered compared to an uncategorized view in UA, which could cause problems and false assumptions about your users and data that were not relevant to your business.

Set Up GA4 If You Haven’t Already

Overall, GA4 allows you to measure and analyze your customer base like you never have before. While the process may seem complicated at first, it’s well worth the upgrade in the end!

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